The Effect of the Meeting of Congress
Richmond Semi-weekly Examiner, December 11, 1860
The country had no right to anticipate much from the assembling of Congress calculated to quiet the agitation which has been disturbing the country since the first week in November.—The popular action in the election of President and Vice President had driven the citizens of the Southern States to look to the decision of their own sovereignties in the exigency which that anti-slavery action of the North combined with its past conduct and avowed policy to force upon the country. The event which created the disturbance came in the last months of the most conservative and friendly administration which the South can hope ever to have while the North possesses its present preponderance in the Union, and its consequent control over the business and property of the slaveholding States. These States can hardly hope for a better Constitution. They can never expect now a Chief Magistrate from the North whose temper, interests and opinions are more favorable to the rights and interests of their section than those of Mr. BUCHANAN have been demonstrated to be. They cannot expect a Congress less hostile to the South, under the present federal system, than that now in session. It is very certain that the next will not be. We know that a few additional Northern Democrats have been elected to the next House, but we know that the additions to the Senate have been against the South, and more will be made equally hostile in a few months. We know, too, that many Southern delegations will not be in the next Congress. It is well known that there is no constitutional limit as to the number of the members of the Federal Judiciary, and that the increase of the number of districts, and the appointment of members will be in the hands of Congress and the anti-slavery Executive.
This was the prospect before the country when the Congress assembled. What has been done by the Congress or the Executive to remove the just and well-grounded apprehension, the settled conviction, that they were to suffer added wrong from the incoming administration, which obtained so extensively throughout the Southern States? We can see nothing calculated to have such an effect, but much which must increase the apprehension, and force the Southern States to accord with previous conviction. That Mr. BUCHANAN desired most earnestly to restrain the mischievous and aggressive action of the Northern people and their agents—that he sincerely sought to correct the dangerous and hostile operation which sectional injustice was giving to the Government of the Confederacy—that he was anxious both as a man and a patriot to devise some plan by which present irritation could be allayed and anticipated wrong averted—we think no man who is not blinded by excitement or prejudice can doubt. After mature reflection and evident labor, he has been unable to do more than to draw a dark, but truthful picture of the desperate condition of the Southern States in this Confederacy, and to point them, as their sole remedy for wrongs, their sole hope of safety in the Union, to an appeal to the justice and mercy of their freesoil assailants, while in the Union, and to an appeal to arms, in rebellion, against the armed and legally constituted authority of the Confederacy to get out of it when their humble petitions shall be rejected. To hold their peace, lives, property and individual and political freedom by the precarious tenure of the mercy and justice of Freesoil majorities, is the lot assigned by a friendly Chief Magistrate to the people of the South in this Confederacy; and to secure these rights and privileges by an armed conflict with an organized government, when they shall be denied by that majority, encountering at once the hazard of battle and the halter of the hangman, is to be the ultimate and sole rightful resort of this oppressed section when it shall seek to obtain them otherwise than by the grant of the sectional majority which oppresses them. The advice to appeal to the States for an amended Constitution, and the denial of any right of independent State action to protect its oppressed people, and the assertion that such action is at war with the Constitution and revolutionary, conveys this idea and nothing else. The denial of the right to coerce the State residing in the Federal Government, while he claims for that Government the right to levy taxes on the persons and property of the people of the seceding State to support the Government they have abandoned, cannot alter the case. The Southern States are left no hope except in an appeal to the justice of the majority in the free States, or to arms in rebellion.
While we differ widely in opinion with Mr. BUCHANAN on the questions of right and on the remedial policy he recommends, we are far from designing to assail the sincerity and purity of his desire to quiet the country and to give security to the South. His purposes are doubtless good. They are, unhappily, inefficient and mischievous, in our view. They have failed to satisfy either of the contending parties. So far as Executive action has been had or indicated, it increases the necessity for the assembling of each Southern State, in its own sovereign capacity, to consider the dangers which menace them severally, and to devise for themselves some measure calculated to provide the security requisite to save their property and liberties.
The indications given to the country through Congress, we think, increases the necessity for the call of a convention of its citizens by each Southern State. From no Black Republican in Congress have we seen any indication of an intention to give even the slender and valueless protection to the South suggested by the President. His Message, so far as we have seen, has provoked nothing but censure and condemnation from the ruling party in the North, so far as it affects really beneficially the interest of the South. No additional constitutional security will be given the South, and without the concurrence of a large portion of that party, and of the Black Republican President elect, the South can have no hope of even the insufficient protection devised by the President. The whole party now in the ascendent in the Union denies the right of State action opposing Federal aggression, and claims what Mr. BUCHANAN denies—the right of the Government to coerce a State back into the Union should one secede. The party thus will not grant the slender security Mr. BUCHANAN desires, and will not allow the State to place itself in a position to protect itself against the oppression of their agent—the Federal Government. We refer our readers to the declarations of those leading Black Republicans who have spoken, and to the comments of the press of that party on this portion of the President's Message, to confirm this statement.
In the House a committee has been appointed to consider and report on the condition of the Union. This committee consists of 33 members—one from each State. There are on it 14 avowed Black Republicans, if Howard, of Michigan, belongs, as we believe, to that party. From the South the notorious H. W. DAVIS, whose Black Republican proclivities and anti-State-Rights sentiments are notorious in the Union, is one; NELSON, of Tennessee, another.—And the complexion of the majority of that committee renders it certain that no security for the South, even approaching that suggested by Mr. BUCHANAN, will ever receive a favorable consideration from it. The hope even of this illusory provision will be stifled in the process of conception, and never have the opportunity of being lost and destroyed by the Congress.
The only effect of these abortive efforts at Executive and Congressional adjustments will be to drag on the time until the two sections are brought face toface on another issue demanding more decision of action. The secession of several of the Southern States from the Union is now a matter of almost absolute certainty. When this event or those events occur, the separate States will be called on to act. Congress and the Federal Government will be out of the question as mediators; they must either be spectators of the efforts of the States to reconcile the parties to the Federal compact, or they must occupy the more offensive and dangerous position of assailants of the seceding States. When these events occur, the States of the South ought to be in Convention, each within its own limits.—If they desire to mediate between the two parties, if they desire to prevent the coercion of sovereign States by the Federal Government, if they desire to decide definitely and authoritatively on their own relations to the sections or to the Government, they should be in the only position which can enable them to speak each for herself as a sovereign community.
But there is now danger of a sudden collision all over the South. There is not a Southern State which may not be called on suddenly to play a part in a scene in which all the physical resources it can command will be necessary. We think it highly important that each State should have a strong internal State organization. That the people in each county should be prepared to call at once into action a strong force, capable of acting either as a police, or forming the nucleus of armed force to support the State authority and to maintain its independence.